When Chamorros of Guam think of the Blessed Mother, they almost always think of Our Lady of Camarin. When we think of the Marianas being the "Islands of Mary," she seems a natural first thought.
But she comes sometime after the Catholic mission started under Sanvitores in 1668.
Few of us know that there was actually an earlier link between Chamorros and the Blessed Mother; one that pre-dates Sanvitores and goes beyond Guam's borders.
The year is 1638 and the place is Tinian.
That was the year the Spanish ship, the Concepción, broke apart off Agingan Point in southern Saipan. Spanish accounts say that the famous chief ( maga'låhe ) in Tinian, Taga', saw the Blessed Virgin Mary appear. She encouraged him to become a Christian and to help the survivors of the shipwreck in nearby Saipan. Evidently he was convinced.
He was baptized by a survivor, Marcos Fernández, and given the surname Corcuera, then Governor General of the Philippines. Taga' was also called Jose Taga' by some sources.
Taga' then arranged with the maga'låhe of Hagåtña, Quipuha, to have the survivors sent to Manila.
The Spanish accounts say that the family of Taga' remained supporters of Christianity and that their home, in southern Tinian, became a house for Christian instruction and conversion.
When Sanvitores came to Guam in 1668, he named Tinian "Buenavista Mariana." "Buena Vista" means, "Good View or Vision," referring to the apparition of Mary.
Nonetheless, Tinian became the site of some opposition to the Spanish missionaries and the place where Jesuit priest Agustin Strobach was clubbed to death in 1684, 16 years into the history of the Catholic mission.
The documents do not give many details about the Tinian apparition. Did Taga' see Mary in the sky? In a dream? On land? What was she wearing?
The information provided creates more questions. If the family of Taga' formed a kind of nascent Christian community, as the sources say, why is it that the later missionaries do not say anything about a small community of baptized and catechized Tinian Chamorros, formed independently of the Jesuits?
Still, the sinking of the Concepción was only thirty years before the arrival of Sanvitores. People who were living in 1638 were still around in 1668. It seems unlikely that the apparition story is a total fabrication, although one must leave some room for some embellishment, which people tend to do with any story, in any historical period, including our own.
So, the apparition of Mary to Taga' in Tinian in 1638 could very well be the first direct link between Mary and the islands which bear her name.